The Best Bedding

Because of the wide variety of litter products available, customers might need the help of a knowledgeable retailer to pick the product that is best for them.





Today’s market offers a wide selection of litter and bedding products, with each product having particular advantages and disadvantages. With such an abundant variety of products, however, small pet owners might be confused about which one to choose. There are several ways retailers can help shoppers decide which product is best for them. 


The first question retailers need to ask a customer is what species of animal they have, since the type of animal will determine the customer’s needs. Ferrets and rabbits are usually quite good about using a litter box, and some products tend to work better inside litter boxes than others. Other small pets, such as guinea pigs, have a tendency to eliminate over a large area of their cage, so different products will be more suitable. 


Animals also vary in the amount of waste they produce; and therefore, they require different types and amount of litter. Guinea pigs and rabbits pass a copious quantity of urine, not only because of their larger size, but because of their physiology. They must drink large amounts of water to help their bodies eliminate excess calcium, and what goes in must come out. Litter for these animals needs to be absorbent, plentiful and spot cleaned daily. In contrast, hamsters—and especially gerbils—are desert animals that produce only small amounts of very concentrated urine, so their litter needs to be changed much less frequently.


Classifying products into types can also help guide customers’ buying decisions. The main division is between soft and hard products. In the soft category are wood shavings and paper products. In the hard category are corn-cob granules, ground walnut shells and different kinds of pellets. Pelleted products can be further divided into those made of paper, and those made of agricultural products such as hay, straw, bark, wood or hulls—these ingredients are ground up and formed into pellets. Softer products obviously make better bedding, but both types of products can be used for litter, which can be defined as a substrate meant to absorb and cover waste products.


The characteristics that need to be compared are absorption, texture, appearance, odor control, price and something I like to call the “mess quotient.” Products can be rated on each characteristic using a five-point scale. For example, soft paper products might rate a five on texture, while ground corn cob might rate a one. 


However, each customer will tend to put more or less value on different characteristics. While some customers will rank appearance and texture as highly important, others may focus more on absorption and odor control. Some might want to select a product that will minimize mess in the home, while others will choose strictly based on price. Retailers should be familiar with the characteristics of each product, so they can best advise customers on the optimum product for them.


For instance, shredded paper products score high on absorption, texture and appearance, but they can be messy and score low on odor control. Paper pellets are less messy, because the heavier pellets are less likely to be kicked out of the cage, and odor-control components can be added to boost that feature. Pellets made of agricultural products are usually quite good for odor control, but because they tend to crumble apart when wet, they can be messy. Rabbit food falls into this category and makes a great inexpensive litter for hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice. Products that are in a more natural form, such as wood shavings, tend to have a lower price than those that are more highly processed. 


Because each product has different characteristics, retailers can suggest that customers use two products together to take advantage of the best qualities of each. For instance, a layer of pellets can be put down first to take advantage of its excellent odor control, and a shredded paper product can be placed on top for added softness.


If a staff member thinks a certain product would work well for a customer, but the customer is reluctant to try it, consider giving them a sample. Find out if manufacturers offer a small sample package. If the customer likes the suggested product, they are likely to become a customer for life.  



Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.


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